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Identifying Resilient Sites for Coastal Conservation

TNC Coastal Resilient Sites

Sea levels are expected to rise by one to six feet over the next century, and coastal sites vary markedly in their ability to accommodate such inundation. In response to this threat, scientists from The Nature Conservancy evaluated 10,736 sites in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for the size, configuration and adequacy of their migration space, and for the natural processes necessary to support the migration of coastal habitats in response to sea-level rise.

Climate change threatens to alter the ecology of coasts in the Northeastern US: it disrupts processes, enhances disturbance, rearranges or destroys habitat, and creates novel conditions for the fish and wildlife that inhabit the coastal zone. Although climate change affects the entire coastal region, some places have a higher natural resilience to change due to their physical properties (orientation, elevation, geology, topography, exposure, wave height, and area for marsh migration) and current condition (riverine sediment inputs, freshwater inflow, and the amount and connectedness of surrounding lands). These areas will likely support native species longer by offering more climatic options to current occupants and buffering them from some of the effects of the changing climate. It is important to identify, protect, and restore these natural strongholds as they will become increasingly important in sustaining natural diversity into the future.

To map these resilient coastal lands, The Nature Conservancy compiled and analyzed regional data on the factors highlighted above that influence a system’s vulnerability and response to climate change. These physical and condition attributes were evaluated and integrated into a spatially-explicit dataset that estimates the resilience of coastal wetland sites relative to other wetland sites within a similar estuary type (e.g., the resilience of a riverine site was only compared to that of other riverine sites). The resulting dataset is intended to help natural resource managers, conservationists, and others identify resilient lands for protection and restoration across the North Atlantic coast, and will ultimately be integrated into the Nature's Network conservation design by incorporating the final results into a 30-meter cell model similar to the University of Massachusetts' Index of Ecological Integrity. 

The study was completed through a cooperative agreement entitled Identifying Resilient Sites for Coastal Conservation under the North Atlantic LCC Decision Support for Hurricane Sandy Restoration and Future Conservation to Increase Resiliency of Tidal Wetland Habitats and Species in the Face of Storms and Sea Level Rise Hurricane Sandy project.

Completed in June 2017

The study was guided by a steering committee consisting of approximately 40 coastal professionals from government, NGO’s and academia who provided input and reviewed proposed metrics, methods and datasets during regular calls.

Hurricane Sandy Disaster Mitigation Funds

North Atlantic LCC Coastal zone

The final products and a recorded presentation describing the results are available on the Resilient Coastal Sites product page.  

Slides, links to the recordings and notes from the first three calls are available for download at the following BOX link:

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